Last week, my friend and colleague, Theresa Freeman, provided an overview of the emergence of the “hyperlocal” scene. As her post explains, these sites combine user-generated content along with some professional content. While the sites Theresa focused on categorize information into localities, they fall into the larger context of citizen journalism, which (as she discusses) faces considerable criticism. Theresa points to comments from the Cape Cod Times ombudsperson who, to paraphrase, calls on consumers to question information derived from citizen journalism. To her credit, she calls on the owners of these entities to offer clear disclaimers like CNN does with its iReports.
So, with all this criticism out there it got me thinking – do consumers really trust these sources? (14 million people can’t be wrong?) If the answer is no, how do I in good counsel spend my time pitching these outlets or even submitting articles directly on behalf of my clients. Where is the value?
Up until this past Monday I thought I had a pretty healthy dose of cynicism when it comes to reading reviews and information, and letting any one particular article guide my decision. That is until I read the WSJ.com article that told me Consumer Reports does not recommend iPhone 4. In the WSJ.com poll that followed, I quickly voted that based on this review “I won’t buy it now.” Me and 903 other people; 40% of the voting population. Oops. I guess I don’t know me as well as I thought I did.
I’m not comparing the quality of Consumer Reports to citizen journalism; but, when I took a step back and realized how quickly I lost my cynicism, I realized that it’s not entirely necessary to answer my original question, do consumers trust citizen journalists? Somewhat regardless of source, there’s always going to be value in spreading awareness in both traditional and new media. While a product review in Consumer Reports is likely to carry more weight with consumers than say, a vendor-contributed article on Associated Content – we’re still getting eyes on our brands and generating new awareness. So next time the consumer sees our brand or product, there’s a familiarity, an ‘I’ve read about them’ moment. It’s also these moments that make true PR ROI measurement an impossibility. But, that dear reader is a blog post for another time.